For many drivers, they come to the ARCA Menards Series to gain experience as they attempt to move up the ladder to the upper levels of American stock car racing. A full-time career in racing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, XFINITY Series, or the Monster Energy Cup Series often starts in ARCA.
The drivers these days come younger and younger. ARCA rules allow drivers as young as 15 years of age to compete on tracks one mile in length and under. And drivers that hope to get approved for the high speeds at the big tracks, places like Daytona, Talladega, Pocono, Michigan, and Charlotte, are often encouraged to enter and compete on the smaller tracks before they race door to door at 190 miles per hour.
So it’s no surprise then that many drivers have made their series debut at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. For the last four seasons, it served as the opening short track race of the year, meaning lots of fresh new faces have taken to the legendary Fairgrounds high banks over the years.
Munford, Alabama’s Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation/Southern States Bank Chevrolet) made his ARCA Menards Series debut at the Fairgrounds in 2016. Holmes finished fifth that evening, but still feels like he left something on the table.
“I still feel like Nashville owes me something,” he said. “The first time there I feel like we lost a win. It was based on tire strategy. The guys who won gambled on tire strategy. I feel like I have something to prove there and something to make up for. We were really good there and I wish we could have gotten our first win in our first start there.”
Holmes sits third in the ARCA Menards Series standings after the most recent race at Talladega Superspeedway. He is a building sciences major at Auburn University. He recently took a day off from classes – and missed a quiz in construction safety – to test at Toledo Speedway for the May 19 event there. Holmes said much of what he and his team, led by crew chief Shane Huffman, would transfer over to Nashville.
“Every track we go to is different, but as far as the car builds go, a lot of it transfers from one track to the next,” he said. “One of my professors is pretty cool with racing so he let me off the hook for today. He just asked me to put him on our list for Talladega.”
Another driver that made his debut at Fairgrounds Speedway is Joe Graf, Jr. (No. 77 EAT SLEEP RACE Ford), who made his first series start at the five-eighths mile oval last April. Graf parlayed pit strategy in the middle stages of the race to lead nine laps but he eventually lost six laps and finished 16th.
Graf had an adventurous rookie season in the ARCA Menards Series. He finished second in a statistical dead heat at Talladega – the scoring monitors showed a margin of victory of 0.000 seconds between he and race winner Zane Smith – and he won a slam-bang last lap short track duel at Berlin in August, ironically defeating Smith, to earn his first career series win.
A student at New York University in Manhattan, Graf is looking for another short track win to get back in the thick of the ARCA Menards Series championship battle.
“I had a lot of fun at Nashville last year despite having a broken leg,” said Graf. “I’m hoping that what I learned at Nashville last year can be applied to this weekend. I feel like we have some momentum right now with some solid finishes after Salem and Talladega – but we’re looking for more. A lot more.”
Graf recently signed on to a partial scheduled with the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series program. Not only will he run races for the team he will also intern in the organization’s marketing and communications department. With big future plans in place, Graf could easily lose focus but he’s kept his eye on the ball heading into Nashville.
“Nashville is one of those places that really fits my driving style. We just need to go there this week, utilize practice and qualifying to our advantage,” he said. “Then, we need to stay out of trouble and have a solid finish and keep ourselves in this championship battle.”
Practice for the General Tire Music City 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions is set for 2:15 pm ET/1:15 pm CT, with General Tire Pole Qualifying slated for 5:15 pm ET/4:15 pm CT. The green flag on the super late model feature is 6:45 pm ET/5:45 pm CT, with the ARCA Menards Series headliner going green at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow along with live timing & scoring, live track updates, and live chat at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login.